Memorial Day & The Remembrance of Things Surpassed (5.25.09)
We remember our heroes because they illuminate the eternal realm of the heroic, a realm that we must treasure and venerate if we are to survive as a culture. Not only is the hero a transcendent archetype, but he is only heroic because he has sacrificed something in defense of another archetype -- truth, liberty, beauty, the good, etc. In the absence of this true formulation, neither the hero nor his sacrifice make any sense at all. This is why to "deconstruct," say, George Washington, is not just an attack on the father of our country, but on fatherhood, heroism, strength, courage, and the realm of transcendent (i.e., the Real) in general.
Last year Will left a lengthy comment that touches on many of the things I wanted to write about this morning:
"So I was thinking, in what way is Memorial Day larger than it is -- as all spiritual ceremonies truly are? Well, as has been pointed out here, it's obvious that Memorial Day is a day for celebrating, honoring, remembering what heroism really means -- courageous self-sacrifice in the name higher ideals, principles, which are, to be sure, *spiritual* ideals and principles. So in one sense, our fallen military heroes are symbolic of this ideal. They are the most vivid, the most tangible representation of this ideal that we have before us. There are others, of course, who likewise are vivid, in-the-flesh symbols of this spiritual ideal: police, firefighters, the occasional citizen who rises to the heroic occasion and is so publicly honored. There is no hero, however, quite as vivid, quite so symbolic of self-sacrificing virtue than the military hero.
"The great wonder of it, of course, is that our fallen heroes are not paintings, statues, images -- they were and are human. They are us. And still they are symbols, ideals in the flesh -- destiny selected them to serve this role. That role is to remind us that we all are potential self-sacrificing heroes, that we all are of divine essence. Somehow, on some level, we must realize this, otherwise we wouldn't have a day for honoring our fallen heroes.
"The other day Bob alluded to the some of the symbolic threads in the Wizard of Oz. I have long seen WoO as a tale of a journey into the Realm of Divine Archetypes wherein we (through Dorothy) see ourselves, and others, in our real, divine essence. In her eyes, her Kansas friends and acquaintances became Scarecrow, Lion, Tin Man -- became, in effect, their true selves, all on a heroic quest to reclaim their spiritual birthright. In Kansas, they were just dusty average Joes. In the Higher Realm, they were their real selves, knights, heroes.
"Most of us are Kansans. We do not have a symbolic public role to play. And yet there are countless souls who commit unseen (by the public) acts of tremendous self-sacrifice and heroism, whose deeds will never be acknowledged -- in some cases, not by a single other -- in this world. Our military heroes remind us that such heroism is possible. The secular attempt to 'deconstruct' military heroism is no less than an attempt to sever us from our Oz, our spiritual reality. We need daily remind ourselves that we are on the yellow brick road of our personal heroic quest. And we need to remind ourselves that, though our personal acts of heroism may never be acclaimed in this life, we will, in the fullness of time, be acknowledged as the heroes we imagine ourselves to be."
As a prelude.... I guess it's not a prelude anymore.... But anyway, I am also reminded of a couple of particularly resonant lines in a piece by Vanderleun, Small Flags: "These days we resent, it seems, having [cemeteries] fill at all, clinging to our tiny lives with a passion that passes all understanding; clinging to our large liberty with the belief that all payments on such a loan will be interest-free and deferred for at least 100 years."
Elsewhere he writes, "It is not, of course, that the size of the sacrifice has been reduced. That remains the largest gift one free man may give to the country that sustained him. It is instead the regard of the country for whom the sacrifices were made that has gotten smaller, eroded by the self-love that the secular celebrate above all other values" (emphasis mine).
Vanderleun touches on several themes that could be expanded into entire posts: the desperate clinging to our tiny lives; the earthly passion that passes all understanding since it denies transcendence; the notion that liberty is free; that death in defense of a spiritual ideal is the greatest gift one man can give another; and that self-love is the polar opposite of true love and sacrifice, and that which causes the country to contract vertically even as it might expand in every other way.
Sacred, sacrament, and sacrifice are all etymologically linked; all are derived from sacer, or to the holy and mysterious. This itself is interesting, for holy, of course, implies wholeness, and wholeness is indeed a portal to mystery, just as "partness" is a perpetual riddle that necessarily shades off into the the absurd. For example, a psychotic person lives in a bizarre world of forcibly disconnected objects and experiences that he cannot synthesize into unity, or wholeness. Often he will superimpose a false unity in the form of paranoid delusions. Paranoia is "a false wholeness," but it is never far from the nameless dread that sponsors it.
A couple of days ago I noted the truism that leftist thought -- even more than being ruled by emotion -- is primarily iconic. Or one might say that the left simply has very passionate feelings about its icons, which they confuse with "thoughts."
You can see this same phenomenon in our recent deust-up with the atheist folks, who are also (ironically, but not really) ruled by overpowering feelings about their own sacred icons. Point out where they are wrong, and they hysterically accuse you of calling them animals and depriving them of the humanity which they deprive themselves. Rational they are not. Or, at the very least, the more sober among them prove the adage that there is a form of madness that consists of losing everything with the exception of one's reason, or that there are incredibly intelligent ways to be stupid -- reductionistic and logically self-refuting Darwinism being one of them. Materialism is a gateway ideology to things far lower.
A disturbing number of our fellow citizens not only believe that Islamic terrorists are not engaged in a global war against Western civilization (or "civilization," for short), but that the United States government itself engineered 9-11, or that the war on terror is really being waged to enrich George Bush and his friends. Obviously there can be no heroes in such a world, only scoundrels and dupes. If this were true, then Keith Olbermann would be correct that our men in uniform are really just "hired assassins."
Vanderleun alludes to this, where he writes of how increasing numbers of American asses with Rosie-colored glasses prefer "to take refuge in the unbalanced belief that 9/11 was actually something planned and executed by the American government. Why many of my fellow Americans prefer this 'explanation' is something that I once felt was beyond comprehension. Now I see it is just another comfortable position taken up by those for whom the habits of automatic treason have become just another fashionable denigration of the country that has made their liberty to believe the worst of it not only possible but popular."
Yes, the left is insane, but exactly kind of insanity is this? How have they become so detached from reality?
It has to do with the specific reality from which they have become detached. As another fine example of the shallowness and naivete of atheist thought, one of them writes that
"Millions and millions of people died in Russia and China under communist governments -- and those governments were both secular and atheistic, right? So weren't all of those people killed in the name of atheism and secularism? No. Atheism itself isn't a principle, cause, philosophy, or belief system which people fight, die, or kill for. Being killed by an atheist is no more being killed in the name of atheism than being killed by a tall person is being killed in the name of tallness."
This looks like a banal statement -- which it unavoidably is -- and yet, it is quite sinister in its implications, and illuminates all of Vanderleun's points mentioned above. First, atheism is petty and unworthy of man, being that it is immensely beneath the scope of his intellect. No one would give his life to defend it, since it is the substance of meaninglessness, precisely. Why sacrifice one's life for the principle that there are no transcendent principles worth dying for?
The least of atheism's baleful effects is that it automatically makes the hero a fool because there is nothing worth defending. The more catastrophic effect is that it leaves the field open to evil-doers who are openly hostile to the transcendent principles that animate our uniquely decent and beautiful civilization. This is why you see an Old Europe that is supine before the barbarians in its midst who wish to destroy it. Socialism has nothing to do with "generosity" or selflessness; rather, it is the quintessence of selfishness, and diminishes a man down to the conviction that his animal needs should be provided for by someone else. The only thing that can rouse his passion is a threat to his entitlements. If only the Islamists were to threaten their 12 weeks of paid vacation, they be taken seriously by socialist EUnuchs.
This is also why, as Venderleun writes, the habits of automatic treason have become just another fashionable denigration of the country that has made their liberty to believe the worst of it not only possible but popular. This is the complete and utter cynicism that results from destroying the reality of the vertical and clinging to one's puny life with a passion that preempts and vanquishes any deep understanding of it.
For just as wholeness, the One, is associated with the peace that passes understanding, the exile from this real human world into the bizarre and fragmented world of the secular left brings not so much the passion that passes understanding, but the passion that cannot comprehend itself because it has no vector or direction beyond its own flat and cramped existence. In fact, nothing can be understood in the absence of that which it is converging upon, which reveals its meaning. To systematically deny the vertical is to obliterate the possibility of meaning and truth, which is obvious; however, it is also to destroy the hero and that transcendent reality for which he is willing to sacrifice his life.
Of the sacred, Schuon writes that it is in the first place "attached to the transcendent order, secondly, possesses the character of absolute certainty and, thirdly, eludes the comprehension and control of the ordinary human mind. Imagine a tree whose leaves, having no kind of direct knowledge about the root, hold a discussion about whether or not a root exists and what its form is if it does: if a voice then came from the root telling them that the root does exist and what its form is, that message would be sacred."
Again, the message is sacred and holy because it is transcendent and relates to knowledge of the whole.
Therefore, the sacred also represents "the presence of the center in the periphery, of the immutable in the moving; dignity is essentially an expression of it, for in dignity too the center manifests outwardly; the heart is revealed in gestures. The sacred introduces a quality of the absolute into relativities and confers on perishable things a texture of eternity." (Never again wonder at the profound lack of diginity of the left, for it is intrinsic and inevitable.)
Another way of saying it is that the sacred relates to the world as "the interference of the uncreate in the created, of the eternal in time, of the infinite in space, of the supraformal in forms; it is the mysterious introduction into one realm of existence of a presence which in reality contains and transcends that realm and could cause it to burst asunder in a sort of divine explosion. The sacred is the incommensurable, the transcendent, hidden within a fragile form belonging to this world; it has its own precise rules, its terrible aspects and its merciful qualities; moreover any violation of the sacred, even in art, has incalculable repercussions. Intrinsically the sacred is inviolable, and so much so that any attempted violation recoils on the head of the violator."
Which brings us back to Will's riff on the Wizard of Oz. On the one hand, the United States, more than any other nation, is flat and dusty old unassuming Kansas. But at the same time, it is Oz, the vertical and shining Emerald City on a hill. We must never forget either fact, one of them Real, the other merely real. Nor can we forget the very real Kansans who gave their lives to bring us closer to that Reality. In order to honor them, we must never do anything to change this into a country that would be unworthy of their sacrifice -- indeed, one they would scarcely recognize. That's the deal in a vertical democracy in which its fallen heroes, of all people, should have a say. We must be their voice.
I guess this would be my favorite version: